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4) Nitro

About six weeks after getting Page, I brought Nitro home with me. He was 3/4 cattle dog and 1/4 pit bull. No one wanted him because of the pit bull and because he wasn’t all cattle-dog, but he’d met Page and got along with her, so I didn’t care. He came home around Page’s 2nd birthday, so I joked that he was her birthday present. She was thrilled, and tried to get in the same crate with him. They chased each other around the yard. I knew it was going to work out.

Nitro was about a year and a half old, and had some kind of odd physical characteristics. He was not very strong, his balance seemed to be poor in rocky areas, he preferred to walk on trails and roads without going off into the brush, and he had terrible feet. I figured all this was due to his having been moved around from foster home to foster home over the last half-year, and sure enough, over the next six months things got better. I worked diligently on his feet with salves and medication, and although they never turned into the smooth, burnished leather of Page’s soles, they did improve significantly. His endurance seemed to improve, too, and we settled into a routine of long walks and dog roughhousing.

Dog Nitro sitting

The summer he was four, I began to notice him lagging behind. It seemed every time we stopped, even on short walks, he had to lie down to rest. Sometimes he went down flat on his side. He began to walk a little funny, throwing his front feet out in front of him, and began to sit funny, too, with his weight all on his back legs and only his front toes touching the ground. People in the neighborhood began to notice.

I took him to the vet and had a thorough check-up done. His heart, lungs, and bloodwork seemed fine. Maybe he was just destined to be a couch-potato. Winter came early and hard, and we stopped being able to get much exercise. All three of us vegged in the house until late spring, when things began to thaw, finally.

Nitro was now five, and after a couple weeks of giving him time to gain endurance, I realized that it wasn’t going to happen. There was obviously something Wrong with Nitro. We went back to the vet. This time he had X-rays, and the vet thought she saw extra bone growth indicating spondylosis. I went home and read everything I could on it. One thing kept coming up again and again: if you have a young dog diagnosed with crippling spondylosis, get a second opinion, because it’s probably not.

I requested Nitro’s records and went off to another vet, 90 miles away. He agreed that something was wrong, and a second set of X-rays, this time taken with Nitro anesthetized, showed no spondylosis. He didn’t know what was going on, though.

Next on the agenda were several trips to Salt Lake City to see another vet, who specialized in neurology. Nitro was shaved, poked, prodded, and samples were taken. He was tested for myasthenia gravis. Tests came back negative. He got worse. Finally this vet told me he couldn’t do anything else for me.

As I last ditch effort, I made an appointment at Colorado State University’s James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, at the time a six-hour-drive. Nitro was checked in for three days, half his fur was shaved off, and Page and I stayed nearby in a motel. Several weeks later, I got a diagnosis: immune-mediated polymyopathy, with a non-typical presentation.

What did this mean? It meant that his immune system was targeting his muscles and breaking them down as though they were intruders. Specifically, his shoulders and upper front legs were being targeted the most, with neck and back muscles nest. Fortunately, his jaw muscles were okay; they are often targets for this disorder. Unfortunately, there was no cure. It might be possible to suppress his immune system with prednisone and cyclosporine. He had probably had it all his life. Looking back, I wondered if the bad feet and original weakness had signified an early flare-up of the disorder.

He was now nearly six; it had taken me a year and a half to get a diagnosis. And the medication wasn’t cheap. For the next couple of years, I spent pretty much all my disposable income buying medication for Nitro, and taking him over to CSU every six months or so. Perhaps the medication forestalled the inevitable, I’m not sure. He continued to deteriorate, and his liver began to deteriorate as well, due to the medication and the effects of his body continuously breaking down his muscles. Although I never thought I would be caught dead with a dog in a stroller, I bought an off-road dog buggy so he could come with Page and I when we walked down dirt roads. I’d let him walk as long as he could, then use his assist harness to plop him in the stroller. He’d settle down and watch the world go buy. He seemed to enjoy it.

He died at age 8 1/2, in June. I bought a gunmetal-gray brass urn for his ashes, and had it inscribed with a quote from Konrad Lorenz: “The bond with a dog is as strong as the ties of this earth can ever be.” The urn sits next to Galyn’s urn, and a display of his collars and tags in a glass-fronted box sits next to her display case in my bedroom.

Page and I were alone again.

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